In modern Turkey — Asia Minor — there is a town called Honaz.  In pre-Islamic Byzantine days it was called Χῶναι — Khonai.  Very close by was the city of  Κολοσσαί — Kolossai, which is the place named in the New Testament’s Epistle to the Colossians.  Both were in the ancient region called Phrygia.

It is interesting that in the Epistle (its authorship, traditionally attributed to the Apostle Paul, is uncertain), We find this in the King James Version of Colossians 2:18:

“Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels….”

Though the translation of that verse varies, the traditional understanding is that it refers to humans worshipping angels.  It is believed that the center of veneration of the Archangel Michael in the early days of Christianity was at Phrygia, where he was considered more as a healer than as a military patron.

The early angel veneration in Phrygia is interesting in regard to today’s icon type, known as “The Miracle of the Archangel Michael at Khonai” — ЧУДО АРХИСТРАТИГА МИХАИЛА В ХОНЕХ — Chudo Arkhistratiga Mikhaila v Khonekh — or in Greek Το εν Χώναις Θαύμα του Αρχάγγελου Μιχαήλ — To en Khonais Thauma tou Arkhangelou Mikhail — literally “The In Khonae Wonder of the Archangel Michael.”  It is also sometimes called “The Miracle of the Archangel Michael at Colossae.”  Here is a 12th century Byzantine example from the Monastery of Saint Catherine at Sinai:

According to tradition, the Evangelist John the Theologian supposedly visited the region in the beginning days of Christianity, and foretold that a miraculous spring would burst forth from the ground there, in honor of the Archangel Michael.  And later, that happened.

It is said that in the 4th century, when Christianity had only begun its takeover of the Roman Empire, a certain man of the city of Laodicaea had a daughter who was mute — who could not speak.  A man — some say the Archangel Michael — is said to have appeared to him in a dream, telling him his daughter would speak if she drank from the spring.  She did so and was no longer mute.

In gratitude the father and all the family were baptized, and in addition he had a church dedicated to Michael built at the healing spring.

Some 90 years later, a ten-year old Christian boy named Arkhippos (Άρχιππος) left home for the church at the spring, and became its sexton.  He lived a rigorous and self-mortifying life, living on wild plants, refusing to eat bread, and never bathing (obviously he did not agree with the saying that cleanliness is next to godliness).  He slept on sharp stones and thorny plants.

Now it happened supposedly, that as the years passed and Arkhippos grew up, the healing spring had become so locally famous, and the harsh piety of Arkhippos along with it, that the “pagans” in the region became jealous. They attacked Arkhippos and tried to ruin the spring, but a flame sprang up from it and frightened them off.  But they did not give up.

They next decided to get rid of the spring and Arkhippos at the same time.  Some distance to the left of the church (and the spring was on the left side of it too) there was a stream called the Khryssos.  The pagans diverted it so that it would flow down and flood the healing spring and the church.  But instead of flowing down into the spring on the left, the river instead flowed around the right side of the church, doing no harm.

Now the church and its spring happened to be on a piece of land that was bordered at some distance by two rivers — the Lykokastros and the Kouphos, one river on each side, making it like an island between them.  The pagans determined to collect the waters of the two rivers above the church, and then to open the dike so that the joined waters of the two rivers would rush down and wipe out the spring, the church, and Arkhippos.  They put a lot of labor into digging and delving, preparing their waterworks for the great flood.  Then they let the waters in their dam rise for ten days, and at midnight they released them.

They stood shouting excitedly as the flood of water rushed down on the church.  But Arkhippos heard all the shouting and the rushing of the water, and prayed these words from Psalm 93:3-5 (KJV numbering):

The rivers have lifted up, O Lord, the rivers have lifted up their voices, at the voices of many waters: the billows of the sea are wonderful: the Lord is wonderful in high places. Your testimonies are made very sure: holiness becomes your house, O Lord, for ever.

Arkhippos, sheltering in the church, suddenly heard the voice of the Archangel Michael calling him by name and telling him to come outside the church to see what was about to happen.  Going out, he saw a pillar of flame from sky to earth.  There stood the Archangel Michael, who made the sign of the cross on a large rock, then struck it with his lance.  The rock split apart, opening a large fissure in the earth into which the floodwaters ran, without doing any harm to the church or its spring.

So that is the story.  Honaz/Khonae is in a region of thermal springs and calcium-laden pools, where the bedrock is calcium carbonate, which water dissolves over time, and opens underground caverns.  The present streams in the area are the Çürüksu (the former Lykos), which includes Karaçay and Honaz Creeks.  Its waters are so laden with calcium carbonate that its name means “rotten water” in Turkish.  So it seems likely that this tale is at least in part an “origin story” explaining the hydrological topography of the area through the religious equivalent of folklore.  And it is also an attempted explanation of the etymology of the place name, because a Χωνιών — Khonion,  in Greek, is a funnel, and the waters were supposedly funneled by Michael into the hole.

Here is a Russian icon pattern for the “Miracle of the Archangel Michael at Khonae.”  It is a bit more detailed than one usually find in icons of this subject:

In the rocky hills at upper left and right, we see the pagans at work diverting the two rivers, one river on each side.  Down below, we see Arkhippos (Arkhipp in Slavic form) standing in front of his church, watching the Archangel Michael with his lance at left.  Michael is directing the floodwaters into a hole down which they swirl like water down a bathroom sink drain.  The artist has added a colorful and lively touch by showing one of the pagans swept headfirst down the flood and toward the hole.

If you look closely at the upper part of the church, you will see that this example has placed a small image of the Archangel Michael upon it, to show to whom it was dedicated.

The only inscriptions on this pattern identify the two main figures, МИХАИЛЪ — Mikhail/Michael at left, and at right Пр АРХИПП — Pr[epodobnuiy] Arkhipp, “Venerable Arkhippos.”


In an earlier posting, we looked at the Tainaya Vechera type — the “Mystic Supper,” which is the form in which the “Last Supper” is commonly presented in Eastern Orthodox iconography.  I also briefly mentioned a related type:  the “Communion of the Apostles.  In Greek it is generally called  Η ΘΕΙΑ ΚΟΙΝΩΝΙΑ (He Theia Koinonia) “Holy Communion,” and in Slavic  Причащения Апостолов — Prichashchenie Apostolov. the “Communion of the Apostles.  It depicts Christ standing at an altar, giving communion to the Apostles, who approach from left and right.  Christ is generally shown twice, at left in the so-called metadosis (imparting) of the bread, and at right in the so-called metalepsis (partaking) of the wine. This represents Christ giving the communion in and to the Church on earth — the Church as one related communion.

Here is a rather basic pattern of the type.  instead of the room of the last supper, it is a church; and instead of the table with the Apostles around it, there is an altar (shown twice in this example), often with a canopy above it.  In the finished icon, Jesus would be holding bread at left, and a chalice (or sometimes a jug) at right:

When inscriptions are present in this type (which may be found in churches above the “Tsar Doors” to the altar or on the wall of the eastern apse) they are generally these texts from Matthew 28 in Church Slavic (in Slavic regions) or Greek (in Greek-speaking areas):

Slavic, at left:
Прiими́те, яди́те: сié éсть тѣ́ло моé
Priimite, yadite: cie est’ tyelo moe

Greek, at left:
Λάβετε φάγετε, τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ σῶμά μου.
Labete phagete, touto estin to soma mou.

“Take, eat; this is my body.”

Slavic, at right:
Пíйте от­ нея́ вси́:  сiя́ бо éсть крóвь моя́, нóваго завѣ́та, я́же за мнóгiя изливáема во оставлéнiе грѣхóвъ.
Piite ot neya vxi: siya bo est’ krov’ moya, novago zavyeta, yazhe za mnogiya izlevaema vo ostavlenie gryekhov.

Greek, at right:
Πίετε ἐξ αὐτοῦ πάντες, τοῦτο γάρ ἐστιν τὸ αἷμά μου τῆς διαθήκης τὸ περὶ πολλῶν ἐκχυννόμενον εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν·
Piete ex autou pantes, touto gar estin to haima mou tes diathekes to peri pollon ekkhunnomenon eis aphesin hamartion.

“Drink of it all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

In some examples, one may find an excerpt from the Liturgy of St. Basil:
(Slavic here)

Нас же всех, от единаго Хлеба и Чаши причащающихся, соедини друг ко другу во единаго Духа Святаго причастие.

“Unite us all, who receive of one bread and chalice, one with another in the communion of one Holy Spirit.”

In the basic pattern shown on this page, the number of apostles included is indistinct.  But commonly there are eleven, six at left and five at right.  You may recall that in the New Testament, there are twelve until the betrayal of Jesus by Judas.  In this icon type, Judas is generally omitted, because this is a liturgical icon showing a scene “in eternity” as the saying goes,  and Judas is not considered part of that eternal celebration.  Nonetheless, some painters included Judas, who may be shown turning away, or even in some examples with a black halo to distinguish him from the “accepted” apostles.


There is a group of related icons that are associated with the liturgical texts of “Holy Week,” the annual celebration of the Passion and death of Jesus.

The first is shows Jesus after his scourging, wearing a scarlet cloak over his shoulders, hands tied at the wrists, the crown of thorns on his head, and a long reed in one hand.  This image has long been known in the West by the Latin name Ecce Homo — “Behold the man,” the words of Pilate when presenting Jesus to the crowd.

Greek examples of the type often bear those same words, only in Greek as  Ίδε ο άνθρωπος — Ide ho Anthropos.  We see that Greek inscription (in upper case) at the left side of this late 19th century print from Mount Athos.  The words are run together as:
ΙΔΕΟΑΗΘΡΩΠΟC.  At right, to cater to another group of customers, is the same inscription in Church Slavic:  СЕ ЧЕЛОВЕКЪ — Se Chelovek — “Behold the Man.”

It is important to know, however, that this type is generally known in Greek Orthodoxy by a different title:  Ο Νυμφίος — Ho Nymphios — meaning “The Bridegroom,” Jesus being considered the bridegroom of the Church.  This “Bridegroom” title comes from a troparion in the Bridegroom Matins service of “Holy Week.”

«Ιδού, ο Νυμφίος έρχεται εν τω μέσω της νυκτός, και μακάριος ο δούλος, ον ευρήσει /γρηγορούντα. Ανάξιος δε πάλιν ον ευρήσει ραθυμούντα. Βλέπε ουν, ψυχή μου, μη τω ύπνω κατενεχθείς, ίνα μη τω θανάτω παραδοθείς και της βασιλείας έξω κλεισθείς. Αλλά ανάνηψον κράζουσα· Άγιος, Άγιος, Άγιος ει ο Θεός ημών, διά της Θεοτόκου ελέησον ημάς».

Behold, the Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night, and happy is the servant whom he finds awake.  Unworthy, however, the one whom he finds indolent.  See therefore, my soul, that sleep does not overcome you, so that you be not handed over to death and be shut out of the Kingdom.  But alert, cry:  Holy Holy, Holy are you our God, through the Mother of God have mercy on us.”

That troparion, in turn, is derived from the Parable of the Virgins in Matthew 25, which begins:

Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom comes; go out to meet him.

Greek examples one commonly sees of the Nymphios/Bridegroom type are generally 19th century or later.

Another Passion-related type is the image found often in older icons, called Η Ακρα Ταπεινωσις — He Akra Tapeinosis — “[the] Extreme Humility.”

This type shows the body of Jesus upright, with the spear and sponge of the Passion.   Russians call it Царь Славы — Tsar Slavui — “[the] King of Glory.”  Here is a Russian proris’ — a painter’s pattern — of that image, which would be reversed on the actual icon:

You may recall that “Tsar Slavui” is also part of the standard inscription found on Russian icons of the Crucifixion.  This title is also often found on Greek icons of the Crucifixion, sometimes on the signboard at the top of the cross as ΟΒΣΛΤΔΞ, abbreviating  Ό Βασιλεύς της Δόξης — Ho Basileus tes Doxes — “The King of Glory,”  and sometimes written in full on or near the main crossbeam.

Russian iconography generally prefers adding Mary to this type; she holds the body of Jesus, upright from the waist in a stylized stone sarcophagus.  With Mary added, the preferred title in Slavic becomes  Neruiday Mene Mati — “Weep Not for Me Mother”:

(Courtesy of

Russians generally classify it as a Marian image, which accounts for the title inscription on the above icon:  Neruiday Mene Mati Presvyatuiya Bogoroditsui — “The ‘Weep Not for Me’ Most Holy Mother of God.”

The “Weep Not” title is taken from the liturgy for Holy Saturday (celebrated as the day after the crucifixion):

«Не рыдай Мене, Мати, зряще во гробе, Его же во чреве без семени зачала еси Сына: возстану бо и прославлюся и вознесу со славою, непрестанно яко Бог, верою и любовию Тя величающия».

Weep not for me, Mother, seeing in the tomb the son, conceived without seed in the womb,  For I shall arise and be glorified, as God I shall exalt with glory unceasing those who with faith and love magnify you.

This “Weep Not for Me” type is essentially a variation on the Greek Η ΑΠΟΚΑΘΗΛΟΣΙΣ — He Apokathelosis —  “The Removal [from the Cross],” in which Mary grasps the body of Jesus as it is taken down.   in fact some Greek examples in this general form — have He Apokathelosis as the title inscription.   The Western European (Roman Catholic) equivalent of the “Weep Not for Me, Mother” is the Pietà — not quite the same, but related.  

There is another “Holy Week” type one should be aware of, because it is found not only in painted icons, but also in needlework on fabric as a liturgical object used in the Good Friday and Holy Saturday services.  Such an elaborately embroidered cloth is called an Epitaphios, or in Russia a Плащаница — Plashchanitsa.

The title of this type is Ο ΕΠΙΤΑΦΙΟΣ ΘΡΗΝΟΣ — Ho Epitaphios Threnos — “The Lament [threnos] Over [epi-] the Tomb [-taphios/taphos].”  In English it is often called simply the “Lamentation.” Here is an example by Theophanes the Cretan, found at the Stavronikita Monastery on Mt. Athos.  The Ο Επιτάφιος Θρήνος title is just above the main crossbeam:

It is interesting to compare it with the earlier Italian fresco (1305) by Giotto, of the same event:


In spite of its much earlier date, the Giotto image seems more full of genuine emotion than the Stavronikita image, less “hieratic” –and a precursor to the Renaissance.


Here is a well-painted Russian icon with four figures:

(Courtesy of

(Courtesy of

They are:

Left top:
Преподобны Даниилъ Столпникъ
Prepodbnui[y] Daniil Stolpnik
Venerable Daniel Stylite
Daniel the Stylite was a 5th century ascetic who spent 33 years atop a pillar after seeing a vision of Simeon the Stylite (Simeon Stolpnik).  He died in 493.

Свяаты Пророкъ Софония
Svyatui[y] Prorok Sofoniya
Holy Prophet Zephaniah
Zephaniah was a 7th century b.c. Hebrew prophet whose teachings are said to be represented by the Old Testament book of Zephaniah.

Преподобны Савва Звенигородский
Prepodobnui[y] Savva Zvenigrodoskiy
Venerable Savva of Zvenigorod
Savva of Zvenigorod was a disciple of St. Sergiy of Radonezh.  In 1399 he established a monastery near Zvenigorod (-gorod means “town/city”) on Storozhevsk Hill, thus his other title, Storozhensky (“of Storozhensk”).  He died in 1406.

Святы Мученик Иоаннъ Воин
Svyatui[y] Muchenik Ioann Voin
Holy Martyr John the Warrior

Today we will focus on the last.

John the Warrior (Ioann Voin or Воинственник — Voinstvennik) is said to have been a soldier in the Roman army  when Julian (the so-called “Apostate”) was Emperor (361-363).

You will recall from the previous discussion of St. Merkurios that Julian had been raised as a Christian, but as he grew older he left Christianity and, as Emperor, attempted to remove Christianity’s privileged status in the Empire, while maintaining freedom of religion.  Because of that, Christians hated him, and in iconography he is seen as a persecutor of Christians.

John’s story is that he was both a soldier in the army and secretly a Christian.   When he was sent out to deal with recalcitrant Christians under Julian’s new laws, instead of enforcing the laws, he helped the Christians.

The Emperor is said to have found out about John’s activities, and ordered that he be brought before him in Constantinople.  On the way, the guards abused and beat John.

When he arrived in Constantinople, the Emperor was away in the war with the Persians.  Meanwhile, John was imprisoned and placed in chains.

The Emperor Julian was killed in the war, and his successor, the Christian Emperor Jovian (363-364), restored the privileged position of Christianity in the Empire, and released John from prison.

John is said to have lived into old age, spending his time helping the sick and the poor and doing many pious deeds.  When he died he asked to be buried among wanderers and beggars, and the site of his grave was said to be lost.

Some time later, John was said to have appeared to a pious woman in a dream, revealing the site of his burial.  The site was found, and the remains were dug up and taken to be placed in the Church of John the Theologian in Constantinople.

Russian Orthodox traditionally prayed to him for aid in times of sorrow and difficulty, for finding lost or stolen objects, and as a patron of soldiers.

Here is a rather typical image of John the Warrior:

(Courtesy of

The title inscription reads:

Обаз Святаго Мученика Иоанна Воина
Obraz Svyatago Muchenika Ioanna Voina
“Image of the Holy Martyr John [the] Warrior”

As is common with warrior saints in iconography, he is dressed in a version of Roman armor.  He holds a lance bearing a banner in his left hand, and in his right a cross.  On his back are a helmet and shield.

It is common for traditional Russian icon painters to give standing male saints (including angels) a very “hippy” appearance, that is, the hips are often made to look wide in proportion to the chest.  He wears a cloak, leggings, and boots.

In images showing scenes from the “life” of St. John the Warrior, those scenes vary from image to image.  Often among them are some or all of these:

  1.  His birth;
  2. His baptism;
  3. The sending out of John by Emperor Julian;
  4. John “on campaign”;
  5. John warns Christians of persecution;
  6. John frees a pious husband from prison;
  7. John arrested under Constantine’s rule;
  8. John in prison;
  9. The dormition (death) of John;
  10. The burial of John;
  11. A pious woman has a dream vision of John, who reveals his burial site;
  12. Finding of the incorrupt remains of John;
  13. The translation (moving) of John’s relics.

You should now be able to read the title inscription on this icon of John:


(Courtesy of

The central figure of John in this example holds his right hand out, with the fingers in the blessing position characteristic of the Old Believers.

In Greek iconography, John is Ιωάννης ὁ Στρατιώτης — Ioannes ho Stratiotes — “John the Soldier.”

Here is a rather more “folkish” example:

(Courtesy of

(Courtesy of




Did you ever notice the many discrepancies in the Gospels?  Most people do not.  But an easy way to pick them out is to compare the four — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — line by line, in a good, rather literal translation.  Using the Greek text is even better, for those who can manage Greek.

I mention the matter of discrepancies, because that is something a perceptive person familiar with the Gospels will notice in the icon type discussed today.

It is the icon for the church festival generally called Palm Sunday in the West.  The Greeks call the icon type for that day Ἡ Βαϊοφόρος — He Baiophoros — meaning “The Palm-bearing.”  Βαϊον (Baion) in Greek means “a palm branch or leaf,” and the -φόρος (-phoros) part comes from the Greek word meaning “to bear, to carry.”   You already know that ending from the name of the legendary saint Khristophoros — the “Christ-bearer,” St. Christopher.


If we look more closely, we can see the Ἡ Βαϊοφόρος title at the top of the icon, with the C used for the last letter “s” (sigma) instead of the modern Greek Σ form:


The Russians called this icon type the “Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem,” —  ВХОДЪ ГОСПОДЕН ВО ИЕРУСАЛИМЪ — Vkhod Gospoden vo Ierusalim, or a similar variation on those words:

(Ostankino Museum)

(Ostankino Museum)


Here is the title inscription, with the colors altered to make it more easily readable.  It is worn and damaged; someone seems to have done a paint removal test strip at right to see what was beneath:

It reads:

Vkhod vo Ierusalim Gospoda Nashego Iisusa Khrista
“The Entry into Jerusalem of Our Lord Jesus

There is little difference in content between Greek and Russian versions of the type.  Many painters liked to place people in the background trees, which often look nothing like palms.  Both Greek and Russian examples show Jesus riding on an ass.  Behind him are his apostles, with a mountain in the background, and before him the people of Jerusalem, with the city gate.  Various people strew their garments beneath the hooves of the ass.

Now the problem with this icon, for those familiar with biblical discrepancies, is that there is only one ass.  So how is that a problem?

The problem arises in the gospel called “of Matthew” (no one really knows who, or how many people, were involved in the writing of the Gospels; the oldest existing Greek manuscripts are anonymous). Matthew says that Jesus rode into Jerusalem “sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.”  Riding on two asses?  It’s a good trick if you can do it.

None of the other gospel writers have this issue.  Mark, Luke, and John all say that Jesus only rode one ass.

Interestingly, however, both John and Matthew use a supposed prophecy of the messiah, found in Zechariah 9:9:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, your King comes to you: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.”

John gives a very loose quote of it, saying.
Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, your King comes, sitting on an ass’s colt.”

So John has simply combined the ass and the foal into one animal.

Matthew, however, is much more literal.  He gives the quote as:
Tell the daughter of Sion, Behold, your King comes to you, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.”

The root of the problem lies in the fact that Zechariah wrote using a literary technique of old Hebrew poetry called parallelism.  A writer would say the same thing twice, but in two different ways:

…riding upon an ass,
and upon the foal of an ass.

Only one ass was meant.

Matthew, however, either did not know about parallelism in Hebrew literature, or else he held the view that God did not waste words, so if two animals were mentioned, then Jesus must have ridden into Jerusalem on two animals.

That is not the end of difficulties with the “case of the missing ass,” but it is enough for you to know that Eastern Orthodox iconography decided not to follow Matthew in this.  So the standard icon type of the “Entry Into Jerusalem” depicts only one ass.  Western European art is a bit more varied.  We often find two asses, an older and a younger, with the younger either beneath the older or very close by.

Here is how the painter of Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry (“The Very Rich Hours of the Duke du Berry”) did it in the early 1400s:

(Musée Condé, Chantilly, France )

(Musée Condé, Chantilly, France )




Today we will take a look at the Rudenskaya icon of Mary, another of the less common types:


It is not difficult to see that this Hodigitria (“Way-shower”) type is very much like the famous Polish Częstochowa image of Mary, which type is known in Russia as the Ченстоховская  — Chenstokhovskaya icon.


The title Rudenskaya (also spelled Rudnenskaya) comes from the town of Rudnya in Mogilev eparchy, today in Smolensk Oblast, Russia.  Ruda means “ore,” and Rudnya was an iron mining area.

According to its origin story, the Rudenskaya icon appeared at Rudnya in the year 1687.   Two years later, in 1689, the local priest, named Vasiliy, took it to the Kievo-Pecherskiy convent.  That later merged with the Kievo-Florovskiy monastery in Podol (Podil), where the icon was kept from 1712 until it mysteriously disappeared in the 1920s.  Whether that sudden disappearance had anything to do with its diamond-studded riza (icon cover) is not known.

This example of the Rudenskaya type has a Сhurch Slavic inscription below.  The first few words of it should be learned by serious students of icons, because one frequently finds them on other Marian icons.  They are:

Истинное подобие чудотворнаго образа пресвятыя богородицы
Istinnoe  podobie chudotvornago obraza presvyatuiya Bogoroditsui

“True likeness [of the] wonderworking image [of the] most-holy Birth-giver-of-God”

Or in more fluid English,

“The True likeness of the wonderworking image of the most holy Mother of God”

One often sees the word мера — myera — added to such inscriptions.  It means “measure,” as in “size.”  It means the icon copy is made the same size as the original.  And instead of, or with the word подобие — podobie — “likeness,” we may find the word изображение —izobrazhenie — “representation.”

Knowing that, you should be able to read many inscriptions that begin like this:


In modern Russian Cyrillic font it is:
Iстинное изображение подобие и мера — Istinnoe izobrazhenie podobie i myera — “[The] true representation, likeness, and measure…”

Add to that the word самого — samogo — which in such inscriptions means loosely “of the same,” we can read inscriptions such as:

Истинное изображение, подобие и мера с самого чудотворнаго образа Знамения  пресвятыя богородицы

Istinnoe izobrazhenie, podobie i mera s samоgo chudotvornago obraza Znameniya Presvyatuiya Bogoroditsui

“The true representation, likeness, and measure of the same wonderworking image of the Sign Most Holy Mother of God.”

The full lower inscription on this example of the Rudenskaya icon is:

Истинное подобие чудотворнаго образа пресвятыя богородице въ рудне идеже творящиися железо от блата, Тамо Дева вселися, дражайшая злата, Да людем жестокие нравы умягчает И железные к Богу сердца обращает

“The true likeness of the wonderworking image of the most holy Mother of God at Rudna; where iron is made from muck, there the Virgin dwelt, the most precious gold, who softens the brutal ways of people and turns the iron heart to God.”

The portion in italics comes from the writings of Dmitriy Rostovskiy.

To avoid confusion, it should be said that there is another and quite different icon type called Rudnenskaya-Ratkovskaya:

There is no origin story for this latter type.



A reader of this site asked about images of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, which are commonly called “The Agony in the Garden” in Western European art,  But in Russia, icons showing this scene are generally called Моление о Чаше — Molenie o Chashe, which we can translate as “The Prayer” (molenie) of/about “the Cup” (chasha/chashe).  Why the discrepancy?

To answer that, we can take a look at a folkish and rather unsophisticated icon from the Ukrainian region.  Ukraine has long been an area where two main Christian traditions meet — The Russian Orthodox and the Western European Catholic.  Consequently there was a mixing of influences, and that is very obvious in this example, which not only is painted in a rather primitive Western manner, but is inscribed with a dedicatory inscription at the base in Slavic, yet signed in Latin Iohanes Mihalyi Depinxit — “Painted by Johanes Mihalyi,” and it is dated 1834.  We can see that it appears to have been removed from an icon screen, and in fact the Slavic inscription says that it was given to the Church of the Apostles Peter and Paul.

(Photo: Wiki Media)

(Photo: Wiki Media)

The icon scene of Jesus praying in the garden is not an old one in Russian or Greek Orthodox iconography, but it was not unusual in the West.  Even Duccio painted it in the first quarter of the 14th century.  Here is his Agonia nel Getsemani — “Agony in Gethsemane”:

So did the former icon painter Doménikos Theotokópoulos, called El Greco  — “The Greek” — in Spain, in this example from the end of the 16th century:

So this type was largely borrowed into Eastern Orthodoxy iconography from Western European art.

Instead of calling it “The Agony in the Garden,” Russians instead favored the “Prayer of the Cup” title.

Now obviously the titles are quite different, but the event depicted is much the same — the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  The Western title is based on the general suffering of Jesus there, just before his betrayal, but the Russian title focuses on that suffering as manifested in the prayer he is said to have prayed in that place.  The account is found in Matthew, chapter 26:

36  “Then comes Jesus with them to a place called Gethsemane, and says to the disciples, ‘Sit here, while I go and pray yonder.’

37  And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy.

38  Then he says  to them, ‘My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: wait here, and watch with me.’

39  And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as you will.’

40  And he comes to the disciples, and finds them asleep, and says to Peter, ‘What, could you not watch with me one hour?

41  Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.‘”

So obviously the Russian “Prayer of the Cup” title is based on verse 39, in which Jesus asks that if it is possible, he may be spared drinking of the (metaphorical) cup of suffering, that is, having to endure his betrayal, passion, and crucifixion.  Russian iconography liked to show the cup, though in Western art Jesus is sometimes shown in prayer without it.

Here is a much more finely painted Russian example of the type, put into “traditional” form used by those trained in the Old Believer manner:

Courtesy of the Kampen Icon Museum:

Courtesy of the Kampen Icon Museum:

The scene, very stylized here, is the Garden of Gethsemane at the Mount of Olives.  In the foreground, Jesus prays to God the Father (Lord Sabaoth), who is seen seated on his throne in the clouds at upper left.  He holds an orb surmounted by a cross — a symbol of royalty.  At upper right, three apostles sleep on the mountain while Jesus prays.

A fragment of his prayer is written extending up to the left, and it is upside-down, so I have flipped it in the following photo.  The inscription is read from Jesus’ mouth toward the flying angel bearing a cup just to the left of Jesus in the icon itself:


It reads:

Аще мимо идетъ чаше сия — Ashche mimo idet chasha siya — “…That this cup might pass away….”

Let’s look at the title inscription, written in ornate vyaz calligraphy, at the top:

You should already be able to read and translate the second half of the inscription, if you have kept up with postings on this site.  But to make the first part a little easier, I have divided the words.  First comes:

The symbols at each end of the whole inscription are just ornamentation, so we begin with the first large letter, which is an “M”  So we have:
MoLeNie = Molenie “The Prayer.”

The second letter is an O, written like a Greek omega.  It means “about,” but here “of” is a better English translation.

Next comes this:

It begins with the Slavic letter Ч, which we transliterate as “ch.”  So this word is Chashe, a grammatical form of chasha, meaning “cup” (it can also mean “chalice”).

We can look at the second half all together:

This part uses abbreviation:

GDA N[a]SHeGO I[iS[u[s]A KH[rist]A

With the missing letters added, it reads:

Gospoda Nashego Iisusa Khrista — “Of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  

If we put the whole thing together, it reads:

Molenie O Chashe Gospoda Nashego Iisusa Khrista,

which means:

“The Prayer Of the Cup of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Just to fill things out, the border saint at left is Ioann Zlatoust — John Chrysostom; that at right is the Priest-martyr Vlasiy (Blaise); both are robed as bishops.

Essentially, then, both Western and Russian depictions are about the “Agony in the Garden,” but Russian iconography sees that agony symbolized by the “Prayer of the Cup.”

It was not at all unusual in the later years of icon painting for painters trained in the stylized Old Believer manner to borrow patterns from Western Catholic and Protestant iconography, and to “translate” them from realism into the stylized manner preferred by those of the Old Belief.

Among other essentially “Western” types that were borrowed into late Russian iconography are “The Good Shepherd” and “Christ Blessing the Children.”  The “Good Shepherd” had been a common image in the first Christian art of the pre-icon period (as in the Roman catacombs), but was abandoned by Eastern Orthodoxy for well over a thousand years.  “Christ Blessing the Children” is not commonly found as an icon subject in Russian iconography until the late 19th-early 20th century.  It is based on Matthew 19:

13  Then were there brought to him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them.
14  But Jesus said, let the little children, and forbid them not, to come to me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.
15  And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.
Parallels to this text are found in Mark 10:13-16 and Luke 18:15-17.

(Courtesy of

One may deplore the blandness of some State Church icons influenced by the devotional Catholic and Protestant art of the West, but one cannot deny that the influence of Western European models brought a gentleness into Russian iconography that helped to moderate its traditional severity.